Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team has just retained the Premier League title crown after a titanic, season-long challenge from Liverpool. Next season, City will attempt to match the record of their cross-city rivals, Manchester United, by winning the trophy for a third consecutive year.
The football this City team is playing is some of the easiest-on-the-eye in Europe and possibly the best the UK has ever seen. Players such as Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and David Silva are the embodiment of Guardiola’s vision of how the game should be played. Manchester City’s football is what we should all be talking about.
Yet, here we are.
News broke in the New York Times (NYT) this week, the day after City’s title success, that an investigation into City’s finances was going to recommend some serious repercussions for the Sheikh Mansour-owned club.
It was reported that UEFA and English football authorities have been investigating City’s books for months now, in the aftermath of Der Spiegel’s allegations in November 2018. The findings apparently indicate a possible misleading of football’s financial regulators as City tried to assemble the ultimate squad in their quest for domestic and continental domination.
The bad news for Guardiola’s side is that one of the recommendations from the inspecting authorities is that they should be banned from entering the UEFA Champions League (CL) for at least one year.
With City having secured their second English league title in a row, the League Cup trophy in February, and an FA Cup final against Watford to play this weekend, domestic success is not a problem for the club. The CL is the one they want, though. Not only does it appear to be the owner’s paramount goal – but it also seems to be Guardiola’s Holy Grail.
Further developments on Thursday revealed that according to UEFA, Manchester City “have been referred to an independent judicial chamber following an investigation into alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.”
UEFA’s initial investigation had focused on the potential breach of its ‘break-even’ rule after Der Spiegel’s report stated that City’s Abu Dhabi owners inflated sponsorship agreements to comply with FFP requirements.
Thursday’s statement from UEFA said: “The Club Financial Control Body chief investigator (Yves Leterme)… has decided to refer Manchester City FC to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber following the conclusion of his investigation.er
As highlighted in the New York Times, FFP rules are intended to prevent clubs receiving unlimited amounts of money through inflated sponsorship deals with organisations related to the owners and clubs who have breached the rules can be barred from European competition.
Manchester City came out fighting, however, indicating they will not be taking these accusations lying down. The club’s statement said: “Manchester City is entirely confident of a positive outcome when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body,” City added.
“The accusation of financial irregularities remains entirely false and the CFCB IC referral ignores a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence provided by Manchester City to the Chamber.
“The decision contains mistakes, misinterpretations and confusions fundamentally borne out of a basic lack of due process and there remain significant unresolved matters raised by Manchester City as part of what the club has found to be a wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process.”
It’s not clear, as of yet, if City were to receive a ban, how soon it would be enforced. The qualifiers for the 2019/20 CL begin in June so UEFA will want to have this case all tidied away before any early competitive games get underway.
UEFA also face the possibility of losing a lot of face due to this situation. The FFP rules only came into play in 2011 and there has never been a case as potentially damaging to one of the continent’s top clubs since their introduction.
The rules were implemented to enforce a measure of financial fairness within European football. As the NYT mentions, the whole FFP system could be rendered meaningless if not successfully imposed in this situation plus several officials on the financial control bodies also have said privately that their reputations could be harmed if their work is seen to be toothless.
They are just some of the concerns UEFA faces ahead of what could be an impending giant of a legal battle with Manchester City.
The club also knows the probable costs of missing a year away from European football’s top prize. Players in their prime may well seek a move to one of Europe’s other top teams – a club partaking in the CL, to be more exact. A significant bargaining chip would be lost when trying to entice the world’s best to the club. Sure, City would still possess the financial clout to bring some stars to Manchester, but many of the top-level players can earn huge salaries at any of several big clubs in Europe while also getting to display their wares in the CL.
Guardiola himself, now entering his fourth year at the Etihad Stadium, could be tempted to walk away and take another sabbatical. Would the former Barcelona great really cope well with being excluded from competing for the trophy he covets most with City?
This doesn’t look like a matter City can throw money at or sweep under the proverbial rug. If the findings declare the club has broken FFP rules then some huge powerplays are sure to be made, both from UEFA and the club.